Ipana Toothpaste/Sal Hepatica

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Following a post-World War I depression, drug marketer Bristol-Myers Co. retrenched, refocusing on the consumer rather than the pharmaceutical segment of its business. Its two leading specialty products were Sal Hepatica laxative, introduced in 1895, and Ipana toothpaste. Ads for Ipana, the first toothpaste in the U.S. formulated with a disinfectant as one of its ingredients, were visually alluring. The ads featured renderings of cafe and restaurant scenes and depicted elegantly dressed people.

Copy encouraged the massaging of the gums twice daily: "Clean your teeth, massage your gums with Ipana twice a day for one full month, and learn the double joy of sparkling teeth and firm healthy gums." The ads included a coupon for a 10-day trial of Ipana: "Ten days will amply demonstrate Ipana's superb cleaning power, its delicious taste." The ad warned, however, that the sample could only begin the work of restoring gums to health and exhorted the reader to get a full-size tube, enough for 100 brushings.

One of the first radio sponsors

In the 1920s, Ipana was one of the first brands to sponsor a radio show; it starred the Ipana Troubadours and promoted the slogan "Ipana for the smile of beauty," which was repeated frequently in hopes of embedding the brand name in the nation's consciousness.

Ipana print ads of the same decade exemplified a trend seen in many advertisements of that era, which associated modern civilization with images of sloth, luxury or decadence. In one ad, Ipana juxtaposed the warning "Eating today is a lazy pleasure" with an illustration showing a prosperous-looking couple dining in a restaurant. Other Ipana print ads explicitly described the sufferings of rich men, yacht-owning millionaires who were burdened with the affliction of "pink toothbrush."

In the 1930s, Ipana and other advertisers faced the challenge of attracting the thousands of newly arrived immigrants and others who could not read English (at that time only one adult in 20 in the U.S. was literate). Ipana responded to this difficulty by referring to itself as "the one in the red and yellow tube" on its radio commercials, hoping that this identification would enable every listener to find Ipana on store shelves.

In the early 1930s, Bristol-Myers' chief agency, Benton & Bowles, handled advertising for both Ipana and Sal Hepatica, which used the slogan "Sal Hepatica for the smile of health." In March 1934, the marketer sponsored Fred Allen's "The Hour of Smiles" (renamed "Town Hall Tonight" later that year), combining the two slogans into "Ipana for the smile of beauty and Sal Hepatica for the smile of health." The joint sponsorship by two products was unprecedented at the time.

In 1935, Bristol-Myers replaced B&B and divided its business between Pedlar & Ryan, which handled Ipana, and Young & Rubicam, which got Sal Hepatica. Y&R produced the Fred Allen series until Bristol-Myers ended its sponsorship in 1940.

FTC complaint

In 1942, strengthened by new legislation in the previous decade, the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Ipana's "pink toothbrush" campaign. Litigation went on for years before the FTC finally rejected the claim in 1949. But in the same 1949 judgment, the FTC permitted it on the basis that it was harmless "puffery."

In 1944, Francis Doherty, account manager for the Bristol-Myers Ipana business, left Pedlar & Ryan to form Doherty, Cobb & Shenfield. The Ipana account followed and remained at the agency until Doherty Cobb merged with Needham, Louis & Brorby in 1964 to form Needham, Harper & Steers. Young & Rubicam continued as a Bristol-Myers agency through the 1970s.

In the 1950s, Doherty Cobb created a TV campaign for Ipana aimed at encouraging children to brush their teeth. The spots featured the cartoon character Bucky Beaver in scenarios in which the mascot fought off evil "decay monsters" from space. The campaign was quite popular and had a lasting impact on American culture. The memorable Bucky Beaver song began: "Brusha, brusha, brusha, here's new Ipana toothpaste/Brusha, brusha, brusha, it's dandy for your teee-eeth." Despite the appeal of Bucky, the Ipana brand was discontinued in 1968 as a result of declining demand. Sal Hepatica also ceased production in the 1960s for the same reason.

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